Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has announced that he will run for re-election in March, to keep pursuing integration with the West while resisting Russian aggression and seeking a "cold peace" with the Kremlin.
Five years after the Maidan revolution turned Ukraine away from Moscow and brought him to power, Mr Poroshenko is likely to face a run-off against former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, who also backs closer ties with the EU and Nato.
They are the favourites before the first round of voting on March 31st, when Ukrainians will be asked to choose between more than 20 candidates, including pro-Russian figures and popular comedian turned politician Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“A feeling of deep responsibility before the country, before my contemporaries and past and future generations of Ukrainians, prompted me to decide to run again for the post of president,” Mr Poroshenko said on Tuesday.
The confectionary billionaire – under whom corruption continues to flourish – said he had “things to be proud of and to ask forgiveness for” after his first term, but that by retaining power he could “guarantee the irreversibility of the European and Euro-Atlantic integration [and] independence of Ukraine”.
Mr Poroshenko (53) even predicted that Ukraine would apply for EU membership in 2024.
His predecessor, Viktor Yanukovich, fled to Russia in February 2014 after his security forces killed scores of protesters in central Kiev. The next month, Moscow seized Crimea and fomented unrest in the eastern Donbas region, where war between Russian-led militia and government forces has now killed more than 10,300 people, displaced 1.6 million and battered the country's industrial heartland.
Weary of war
Portraying himself as a staunch leader in turbulent times and suggesting that his election opponents could bow to the Kremlin’s will, Mr Poroshenko said Russia “didn’t come for Crimea or Donbas – the enemy came for the whole of Ukraine”.
“Of course, we need peace with Russia – cold, but peace. People are tired of war,” he added.
Surveys give Ms Tymoshenko 18 -20 per cent support and Mr Poroshenko 10 - 15 per cent, but he hopes to benefit from the role he played in securing recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from Moscow last month.
Ms Tymoshenko insists she is just as pro-western and tough on Russia as her rival and she has promised to slash gas bills for Ukrainians, in a typically populist move that could anger the International Monetary Fund and other lenders that have propped up the country's economy while demanding major reforms.